September 14, 2007

‘Spirit Catches You' author to speak at Clark Oct. 1

Fadiman's book relates Hmong child's health crisis and collision of cultures

Worcester, Mass. - Clark University's Higgins School of Humanities, the office of President John Bassett, and the Dean of the College will present a lecture, "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" by author Anne Fadiman, at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 1, in the Daniels Theater, Atwood Hall, Downing Street.
Fadiman will talk about the experience of writing her first book, "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures" (1997), which chronicles the trials of an epileptic Hmong child and her family living in Merced, California.  Fadiman's sensitive, incisive treatment of the gulf between the Hmong and American cultures and medical systems won her a National Book Critic's Circle Award in 1997.  

The author will describe cross-cultural challenges she faced, and lessons she learned about how American health care providers can provide more sensitive and effective care for patients from other cultures.

Fadiman is renowned as a columnist, editor and essayist. She edited The American Scholar, the venerable literary quarterly, described by The New York Times as "an intellectual giant." Her essays and articles have appeared in Harper's, The New Yorker, and The New York Times, among many other publications. Among her many awards are National Magazine Awards for both Reporting (1987) and Essays (2003). She is the inaugural Francis Writer in Residence at Yale University—the school's first endowed appointment in nonfiction writing. She serves as adjunct professor in the English department at Yale and as a mentor to students considering careers in writing or editing.

Fadiman's book is used in many universities as a casebook for cross-cultural sensitivity and is read by medical practitioners aiming to improve their care to patients from other cultures.  This year, Clark University required all first-year students to read the book and asked them to discuss it with faculty and administrators once they arrived on campus.

"A book like ‘The Spirit Catches You' speaks to many dimensions of Clark's values," said President Bassett at the University's Fall Convocation. He added that book discussions he participated in were not only focused on Fadiman's portrayal of the Lee family, the Hmong people, medical care, and bureaucracy, but also led to more broad discussions about immigration and assimilation, diversity and the meaning of community and language.  

This free, public event is a President's Lecture, co-sponsored by the Office of the President, the Office of the Dean of the College, and the Higgins School of Humanities. It is offered in conjunction with the Religion and Tolerance Symposium of the Difficult Dialogues Initiative, which is supported by the Ford Foundation to promote a culture of dialogue across differences on Clark's campus.

Professor Sarah Buie, Director of the Higgins School and the Difficult Dialogues Initiative, says "Anne Fadiman's book is a ‘tour de force' of dialogue.  Fadiman views the stories of the Hmong family and of the American doctors with attentive nonjudgment and expresses her understanding through the careful process of listening. She describes how each is seen through the other's eyes. Fadiman creates a place big enough to hold both stories and to honor them, making us profoundly aware of the space between them."

The symposium on Religion and Tolerance includes lectures, performances, and panels that run from September 12 through October 24.  For more information about other events in the symposium, visit

An author's reception and book signing will immediately follow the lecture in the Goddard Exhibition Room of the University's Goddard Library on the central campus. For more information about this event, call 508-793-7479.